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Thembekile Mandela Memorial Stone

13 July 2019 : Memorial Stone Unveiling Ceremony
In honour of the
Personal Sacrifices endured by the Mandela Family
and to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of
Madiba Thembekile Mandela
Christina Klaassen
Irene Simelane
Angelo Egidio
Who tragically passed away in an accident on the N1 at Touwsrivier on
13 July 1969
President Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, then imprisoned on Robben Island lost his eldest son that day.
After his release from prison in 1990, Madiba came to Touws River to seek solace and closure for his grievous loss.
Unveiled by the daughters of the late Madiba Thembekile Mandela,
Ndileka and Nandi Mandela
13 July 2019

Ceremony was hosted by the Touwsrivier Heritage and Conservation Society in co-operation with
The Touwsrivier Tourism Association and the Breede Valley Municipality.
Research done by: Nelson Mandela Foundation & Touwsrivier Heritage and Conservation Society
Sponsor of the granite stone plaque: Botes Funeral Services - Louis Swart and NM Grafstene - Mr. Nigel Meiring
Sponsor of accommodation and refreshment: Aquila Private Game Reserve and Loganda Karoo Lodge
Sponsor of the trees: Breede Valley Municipality
Preperation of Gideon Joubert Park and planting of trees: BVM Touwsrivier
Photography: Ewald Human 

We Sincerely Thank Everyone for their Contribution!!!


Three cars travelling in heavy fog along the N1 National Highway passing Touwsrivier collided in a devastating accident on 13 July 1969.
Four lives were lost. Four people were injured. Their families were broken.
The four people who passed away were Madiba Thembekile 'Thembi' Mandela, his sister-in-law, Irene Simelane, Christina Johanna Klaassen and an Italian tourist, Angelo Egidio.
The injured were Thoko Mandela, Johannes Jacobus Cornelus Klaassen, his youngest daughter Christina Klaassen and his granddaughter, Christina Van den Berg.
Thembekile Mandela was travelling with his wife and sister-in-law from Durban back to their home in Retreat, Cape Town.
The Klaassen family was returning from Cape Town to their home in Bloemfontein, Free State.
Angelo Egidio was traveling away from Cape Town.
Within days all the families had received the shattering news of their passing.
Thembekile was the first-born child of Evelyn and Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela who was then in jail serving a sentence of life imprisonment for his role in the struggle to end apartheid. On 16 July the Commanding Officer of Robben Island
Maximum Security Prison informed him that a telegram had arrived bearing news of the death of his eldest son. The grief-stricken father returned to his cell and his comrades later recalled seeing him wrapped tightly in a brown prisonissue
blanket sitting with his comrade Walter Sisulu.
It was the second shattering blow in less than a year for the man who was in his seventh year of imprisonment. His mother, Nosekeni Mandela passed away in September 1968 and he was refused
permission to leave prison to bury her.
Six days after he heard about the accident that stole his son's life, Nelson Mandela wrote to the Commanding Officer of Robben Island.
"My eldest son, Madiba Thembekile, aged twenty-four, passed away in Cape Town on July 13, 1969, as a result of injuries he sustained in a motor-car accident.
I wish to attend, at my own cost, the funeral proceedings and to pay my last respects to his memory. I have no information as to where he will be buried, but I assume that this
will take place either in Cape Town, Johannesburg or Umtata. In this connection I should be pleased if you would give me permission to proceed immediately, with or without
escort, to the place where he will be laid to rest. If he will already have been buried by the time you receive this application, then I would ask that I be allowed to visit his grave
for the purpose of “laying the stone”, the traditional ceremony reserved for those persons who miss the actual burial.
It is my earnest hope that you will on this occasion find it possible to approach this request more humanely than you treated a similar application I made barely ten months ago, in
September 1968, for leave to attend my mother’s funeral. Approval of that application would have been a generous act on your part, and one which would have made a deep
impression on me. Such a humanitarian gesture would have gone a long way in softening the hard blow and painful misfortune of an imprisoned man losing a
mother, and would have afforded me the opportunity to be present at the graveside. I might add that I saw my late son a little more than five years ago and you
will readily appreciate just how anxious I am to attend the funeral.
Finally, I should like to point out that precedent exists when Governments have favourably considered applications of this nature."
He wrote later to a friend that this request was "simply ignored" and Thembekile was buried in Johannesburg on 3 August without the presence of his father.
He and his colleagues in prison were not allowed access to newspapers until 1980 and his special plea to read the reports on the accident were also refused. In
fact, he said he was given "no authentic information whatsoever" on how his son had died.
Mandela was in prison for another twenty years and finally, after his release he was able to visit the scene of the accident.
Thembekile left two daughters Ndileka, aged four, and Nandi who was just over a year old.
Christine Van den Berg was 20 months old when her mother Charlotte passed away and four years old when she lost her grandmother in the accident. She
returned to the Free State and some years later moved to Worcester to live with her aunt Judith Snyman where she attended high school.
In 2019, fifty years after the tragedy that claimed the lives of their loved ones, Christine and Ndileka were introduced and privately shared
personal memories of the disaster.
"Death comes to each & every family, striking down today either a beloved father or mother or child, brother or sister, [and] that
what is essential is not so much the particular calamity that befalls you, but the attitude you adopt towards it."
— Nelson Mandela, 29 July 1969
A welcoming speech was given by, Christiaan du Plessis, chairman of the Touwsrivier Heritage and Conservation Society.
Due to this grievous injustice that was done to a father of our nation, the Touwsrivier Heritage and Conservation Society in co-operation with the Touwsrivier Tourism Association and Breede Valley Municipality would like to acknowledge and honour the personal sacrifices of the Mandela family and commemorate the 50th year since the passing away of Madiba Thembekile Mandela, Irene Simelani, Christina Klaasen and Angelo Egidio by placing this memorial stone in our town so that knowledge of this past event will not be lost to future generations.

Reverend Andrew Esterhuizen, who is the first person of colour to lead a Dutch Reformed Church as a result of the good fight fought by Nelson Mandela and as true testament of how much South-Africa has grown, was asked to open this ceremony with a prayer. Rev. Esterhuizen also closed with a prayer and blessed the ceremony accordingly.

We were not able to find any relatives of Angelo Egidio, who was visiting South Africa during the time of his death and in his memory an Italian flag where present behind the stone.

Thanks to the research of the Nelson Mandela Foundation a Klaassen family member was located and contacted immediately. Mrs. Chrisna (van den Berg) Wigget wrote an Eulogy to her grandmother and stated that she was a person who accepted her as her own child, she was strict but had a good heart.
In this Eulogy read by Cllr. Dr. Kritzinger, Chrisna also thanked all the role-players for making this memorial stone a reality.

Ndileka Mandela, eldest daughter of Thembekile Mandela, delivered a Eulogy for the Mandela and Simelane family in which she stated:
"This monument stands for the forgotten faces. Because often times, especially in
the live of my grandfather, my dads live is glossed over. Its boom and done. Is
that the sum total of a person’s life? He was born and he belonged to this land.
Nobody knows the pain my grandfather has gone through, its only when I gleam
through letters that one gets an impression (of his despair).
My grandfather refused to talk about my father. We eventually came to the
understanding that it was a pain that he never wanted to revisit, and we stopped
This memorial stone will be time-infinate and I plan, as I am now also a
grandmother, to bring my other son and sister’s son to visit this site as a family.
We hope to come visit every five years to remind our children that other than his
grave, there is also this memorial stone.
Our lives, all of our live, all the people on this plaque, were irrevocably changed
because of the accident."
Ndileka further thanked all the role-player and said: "It is
something, as his children, that we will always cherish. It is something that our
children will come to know. Thank you."

The Symbolism of the Thembekile Mandela Monument
Councillor Dr Julian Kritzinger
Mayoral Committee Member for Local Economic Development, Tourism, Arts and Culture
Breede Valley Municipality
A lot of symbolism was weaved in the Thembekile Mandela Memorial Stone:

TreePlanting1. Time of Unveiling
The accident occurred on 13 July 1969 at 09:00 am and that is then also why our programme started at 09:00 am this morning
2. Stone from Accident Site
The stone that was used for the monument was collected from the actual site of the accident where Thembekile Mandela died on 13 July 1969.
3. Stone as Only Witness
This stone is basically the only ‘witness’ of what really happened on that Sunday morning on the N1.
We know that former President Nelson Mandela had a lot of questions on the accidents of which no one knows the answers. In a letter to Nolusapho Irene Mkwayi, dated 19 November 1969, former President Nelson Mandela wrote
“How did it happen? Did his car capsize or did it collide with another car? Exactly where did the accident occur? How many people were involved? Was death instantaneous or otherwise?”
All of these were reasonable questions that every parent would almost instinctively ask, but which is known only to the bare scene of the accident site.
4. Symbolism of Stone
The symbolism of stones centers on ideas of endurance, stability, and permanence. They represent the ability to be grounded and connected with the earth. Stones are strong, versatile, and easily accessible. They allow us to feel the energy of the earth and teach us powerful lessons about endurance and encourage us to appreciate the common things in our life.
5. ‘Ukubek ‘iletye’ Xhosa Custom
To understand the true significance of this monument, one has to have regard for the Xhosa custom of ‘Ukubek ‘iletye’, which literally means ‘to place a stone’ and is a Xhosa ceremony after a burial for those who missed the actual burial of a loved one.
6. Monument in Form of Headstone
Although Thembekile Mandela is not buried in Touwsrivier, but in Johannesburg, there will however always be a part of his spirit that rests here and that is why the monument is in form of a headstone.
7. Wish of former President Nelson Mandela
There can be little doubt that former President Nelson Mandela would have stood amongst us today here at Touwsrivier on this historic day, if he was still alive. On 19 July 1969 he wrote to the Commanding Officer of Robben Island to ask permission to perform the ‘Ukubek ‘iletye’, but his application was turned down. Since then, the ‘Ukubek ‘iletye’ has never been performed for Thembekile Mandela at Touwsrivier and this is why this is such an historic day.
8. Symbolism of Tree Planting
While in prison, former President Nelson Mandela was never allowed to attend the burial of Thembekile Mandela, and one of the first things he did after his release in 1990 was to travel to Touwsrivier to come and stand at the site where the accident occurred and to come and find closure on the death of Thembekile Mandela. We know that he visited the Loganda Hotel when he came and that is then also why Ndilekha Mandela and Nandi Mandela will each plant a tree in front of the Loganda Hotel in remembrance of former President Nelson Mandela’s visit to Touwsrivier in 1990.
9. Symbolism of Aloe Planting at Scene of Accident
After the formal part of our programme for today has closed, Ndilekha and Nandi Mandela will go and plant a large aloe in remembrance of their father and the other people who lost their lives at the scene of the crash site along the N1. Special permission was obtained from SANRAL for the planting of the aloe on the road reserve, but unfortunately SANRAL regulations forbid any monuments, such as the ‘Ukubek ‘iletye’ from taking place in the road reserve, as it could lead to another accident – and therefore the Gideon Joubert Memorial Park here in Touwsrivier was chosen as the site for the monument. The aloe that they will plant is a unique plant as it has three heads, representing each of the three families affected by the accident.
10. Thankful that the Life of Ndilekha Mandela Was Spared
Ndilekha, and then today is also a very personal day for you in the sense that if things on 13 July 1969 transpired different, it could have been that you would not be standing here amongst us today. I understand that your late maternal grandmother, Lilian de Jager, once told you how she refused to let your parents take you along on this fatal trip. If it of course weren’t for your grandmother’s refusal, you would also have been in the accident.
11. Monument to Bridging Personal Circumstances
As an anecdote, the Memorial Stone then also serves as a Monument to bridging personal circumstances: Both Ndilekha Mandela and Christina van den Berg, who lost her mother, Charlotte Klaasen, in the accident are of the same age. I believe that the two of you know each other and have shared stories of the accident in which both of you have lost a parent.
This is a typical characteristic of our own personal stories here in South Africa: if you look deep enough, you will always find how all of our stories are connected to each other and how we share a common humanity, and how, if we bridge our personal differences, we can all be friends.
12. Uniqueness of the Thembekile Mandela Monument
Although there is a lot of statutes to commemorate former President Nelson Mandela’s contribution to the liberation struggle, there is no monument anywhere in the world which commemorates former President Mandela’s and the Mandela family’s personal sacrifices in the liberation struggle – and nowhere in South Africa this personal sacrifice is more evident than here in Touwsrivier – and this is then what makes the Thembekile Mandela Monument so extremely unique.DedicationPlaque